Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Eagle and Eaglets: The Gospel of John and the Letters

I enjoyed this quotation from R. Alan Culpepper and Paul Anderson in the introduction to their edited volume, Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles:

"As Raymond Brown has made us aware, while the Johannine "eagle," representing the elevated perspective of the Fourth Gospel, soars above the ground it surveys, the Johannine Epistles betray eaglets fighting over their place in the nest, with schisms, rejections, embraces, and invective language -- all showing a far less tidy portraiture of early Christianity than more romanticized views have allowed" (2).

Raymond Brown, a towering figure in the study of the Gospel and Letters of John, understood the letters of 1-3 John to be evidence of conflict and schism in the communities that received the Gospel of John.  He also argued that the Gospel of John itself reflects a community history of conflict with different groups.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Ethiopic Enoch Reading Guide: Chapters 1-5

I've put together and posted another Ethiopic reading guide, this one for the first five chapters of 1 Enoch.  The first six pages include a transcription of Charles' Ethiopic text with plenty of space between lines and a large margin for taking notes.  The remaining pages have an alphabetical vocabulary list with English glosses, a list of verses where the words occur in these chapters, and a page number for the entry in Leslau's concise lexicon.

1 Enoch 1-5 is an interesting unit of the text that serves as an introduction to the Book of the Watchers and the corpus as a whole.  Lots of theophany language -- if you've ever wanted to know how to talk about mountains melting and shaking in Ge'ez, this is the text for you.

You can download the reading guide here.

You can also download two other Ethiopic reading guides for the Book of Jubilees on my page.

Happy translating!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Gird up the Loins of your Mind

English translations of ancient texts often conceal interesting expressions in the original languages.  A nice example of this is I encountered recently is 1 Peter 1:13.  In the NIV we read:

"Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming."

The NRSV renders it:

"Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed."

The Greek phrase behind "with minds that are alert" or "prepare your minds for action" is: anazōsamenoi tas osphuas tēs dianoias humōn.  We could more literally translate this as "girding up the loins/waist of your mind."

The "girding of loins" might be familiar to some Bible readers.  We see it as part of the Passover instructions (Exodus 12:11), it is something Elijah does before running (1 Kings 18:46), and God tells Job to "gird up now thy loins like a man" in the little heart to heart they have at the end of the book (Job 38:3; 40:7).  Other examples: 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 9:1; Jeremiah 1:17; Luke 12:35; Ephesians 6:14 (and this is only some of the "girding" that happens in the Bible).

The general idea is that when you're wearing flowing clothing that covers your legs, like different kinds of skirts or robes, it can be hard to run or engage in other movements (which is why Elijah does it before running).  So, tying your clothing up around your waist area frees up your movement.  This Huffington Post article features some visuals of what this process might look like.  

Peter is using this image metaphorically: gird up the loins of your mind.  The sense is probably to prepare one's mind, perhaps, as the NRSV suggests, for some kind of action.  Or, it may just communicate, as the NIV suggests, a level of alertness.  It's an interesting image, and one which we would entirely miss if we only relied on some of these translations!  A few English translations have brought the phrase out in different ways.  The KJV rendered it literally:

"Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

The Message, which is a radical paraphrase, offers this:

"So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that's coming when Jesus arrives."

I particularly like what the Message does, because it translates the language into an image that makes more sense to many of us in English.  This example serves as a good reminder to use as many different translations as you can, and another good reason to learn the original language of ancient texts you like to read!

Something I am left curious about is questions of gender and this expression.  Is "girding up one's loins" masculine?  A lot of interpreters explain the phrase as meaning "man up" (check out the use in Job).  Would this have been a masculine image for Peter?  Would ancient women also have had the experience of needing to tie up some forms of clothing to increase mobility? (See line 286 of Atrahasis).

Monday, August 3, 2015

Using Book Reviews

As a student I have found academic book reviews to be a really helpful resource.  Academic book reviews are just what they sound like: reviews of academic books often found in academic journals.  Academic books go through a peer review process before they are published and hit the shelves to help ensure their quality, but book reviews provide an opportunity for the academic community to begin publicly assessing these works.

As I student, I have found book reviews to be useful in a couple ways:

(1) As companions to a book you're working through.  By reading reviews of a book you're engaging you can get some insights into how the work has been received, and can also find some helpful analysis and critiques of the argument.  In working on my thesis I interacted with a lot of Dennis Macdonald's work on the influence of Homer on the New Testament and other early Jewish and Christian texts.  Book reviews (and MacDonald's response to some of those reviews) were helpful for me, as they alerted me to some of the aspects of MacDonald's work that had not been well received by some scholars.  Since I was making positive use of some of MacDonald's work this allowed me to address some of the criticisms of his work and draw distinctions between what he had argued and the argument I was making.
I have found book reviews to be especially helpful when I am working through a book that is outside of my field.  When you're reading within your field you are better able to critically engage a book.  Sometimes when a work is outside your field you don't really have the background information to weigh the merits of an author's arguments.  And in some cases, you don't have the time to familiarize yourself with a wide range of literature and opinions in that field.  In this case book reviews can alert you to different perspectives on the topic or potential weaknesses in the author's argument (although it seems some reviewers are sheepish about offering criticisms).  They can help you from being unduly influenced by a single work.

(2) As a way of taking the pulse of scholarship and staying abreast of developments.  Book reviews are nice and short.  Reading them is a great way to stay familiar with what is being published, what kinds of arguments are being made and what kind of work is being done.  I find this can be really helpful when it comes to cognate disciplines, for which you don't have the time to read lots of books, but you'd still like to keep an eye on what's going on.

(3) Research paper ideas.  When you're trying to develop a topic for a research paper book reviews can be a helpful source of inspiration.

(4) Finding stuff to read!  One of the big reasons book reviews of all kinds exist is to help people decide what to read.  With so many books and so little time book reviews can help you sift through the many options and decide which books to add to your list.

How to find them: You can look through print journals in your library.  But the best way to find them is to use your library's full text databases.  Your librarian can help you find the right database for what you're looking for.  The databases I use give you the option to limit your search results to book reviews.  If you have a particular book you'd like to read reviews on, you can just search for the title.  If you're looking for reviews on a particular subject, you can enter your search terms and narrow the results to reviews.  So, I am currently doing some research on the Book of Jude: I simply typed "Jude" in the search field and narrowed the results to book reviews.

For the areas this website focuses on, two great, free, online sources for book reviews are the Society of Biblical Literature's Review of Biblical Literature and the Bryn Mawr Classical Review